Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Needed: a new normal of parliamentarians

Published:Thursday | March 17, 2016 | 3:00 AM

Parliamentarians are often the subject of much criticism because only a handful of them manage to meet and/or exceed our expectations. Regrettably, many of them do not seem to fully understand what their duties entail (maybe we really do need job descriptions) and are therefore only energized to work when an election is imminent. It is unfortunate that this practice is so commonplace and that politicians who do the bare minimum can be re-elected. I suppose this past election on February 25 was a lesson for some.

We desperately need a new normal. Politicians should never be able to take their job, (yes, it is a job) for granted and think that there is even a slight possibility that they will be returned to office. I am confident that our increased interests and involvement in governance - especially among those of us who are active on social media and call in on or listen to daytime radio programmes - will yield better results for the people in the near future. We need to maintain the momentum of our disquiet with the state of affairs in our country and be as vigilant as we are during elections about these matters. It is only through our collective efforts in demanding better governance that we will see greater improvements. Everyone has a responsibility in this regard.

 

HOLD LEADERS ACCOUNTABLE

 

We must spare no effort in holding our leaders accountable and ensuring that they perform their role more effectively. However, it is important that we recognise that accountability must not only be directed at those in the Cabinet or the ruling administration; every parliamentarian is accountable to us the people - we the people who elected them - and they have a critical role to play as our representatives, and as legislators.

I am particularly interested in our assessment of how effective our parliamentarians are in executing their duties. Generally, many of us evaluate their collective performance using the number of days they meet, length of time spent discussing matters of governance and development, and the number of legislation passed, among other things. Importantly, some of us also consider the frequency and quality of an individual member's contribution to debates in the House and whether or not they have ever tabled a private member's motion, as well as the types of initiatives they implement in communities to improve the well-being and livelihood of their constituents. Dr Dayton Campbell, Raymond Pryce, Julian Robinson, Shahine Robinson, Daryl Vaz and Damion Crawford are among the few considered to be very effective and worthy Parliamentarians.

In addition, based on observation and from cursory review of the list of achievements they usually publish, when they do, it shows how different our ideas of achievements and a good member of parliament (MP) are. Understandably, they pride themselves on what some of us call 'bread and butter' issues, such as the number of students they provide with assistance, the roads repaired, building of community centres, and assistance provided to schools.

These are, of course, very important issues to address, but I fear too many of our politicians are too resigned in doing simply that. I worry that more do not seem willing/interested to engage in discussions around legislation, policies and spending and, importantly, representing the needs and priorities of their constituents in a more wholesome way.

Parliamentarians must recognise and appreciate that 'there are important causal linkages between development and the quality of governance in a country. [Therefore] successful development requires a healthy balance between a vital and diverse civil society, an economically competitive and productive market-place and effective accountable government' (Parliaments that Work: A Conceptual Framework for Measuring Parliamentary Performance, World Bank).

 

END LIP SERVICE

 

It seems clear to me that our Parliamentarians must end the lip service about good governance if we intend to achieve Vision 2030. Martin Henry's article last Sunday is a good starting place. They will need to find ways to improve their participation in the governance of the country. Much has been said about the need for a new parliament building, but I think this will not be enough. Parliamentarians need human and financial resources to conduct necessary research, to hire skilled personnel who can advise them on key matters, including but not limited to policies and legislation being discussed in the House, and draft contributions for use in Parliament and other spaces. Perhaps it is time that they consider allocating some of their Constituency Development Fund towards undertaking some of these necessary activities. After all, this is part of their function as MP and we are all in a Partnership to Step Up the Progress to Prosperity.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.